Monday, June 28, 2010

The Holiest Buddhist Site

(Photos: Asiacamera/Flickr)

There is no single Buddhist mecca, an indisputable holiest shrine. Many might argue for Bodhgaya, India reputed to be the exact site of the Buddha's great enlightenment. But British archeology of yore leaves much to be desired. There is doubt the exact spot and tree are known. (The original Bodhi tree was chopped down by Muslim zealots at the thought that people were "worshipping" a tree instead of Allah). Shwedagon Pagoda, however, is an impressive site. Situated in the capital of Burma (Myanmar), it was built to house sacred relics but has grown in size and significance over its supposed 2,500 year old lifespan. It has been rebuilt several times.

Over 16 tons of 24 kt gold plating covers the main pagoda. At the very top is a single 76 kt diamond, surrounded by 1,100 smaller rubies and diamonds, and a collection of personal gold and jewelry donated to the pagoda by wealthy Burmese citizens before their deaths. During a recent typhoon, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and gold rained down after becoming detached. Also present in the pagoda are relics of the historical Buddha, including 8 hairs thought to have been given to the first laypersons to come in contact with the Buddha after his enlightenment:

He was on his way to Sarnath, near Varanasi, to find the five ascetics, who abandoned him as he pursued enlightenment by neither struggling nor stopping. (To them not struggling was stopping). Two Burmese merchants were traveling through India when they came upon the Buddha and were so impressed with him that they asked for a keepsake to remember him by. He is said to have pull a few hairs from his head, which were subsequently enshrined at the massive shrine complex that has become modern Shwedagon Pagoda.

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